I’m feeling incendiary. Who wants to play?

I want to talk about the Violentacrez thing.  If you have managed to avoid the whole unsavory kerfuffle, basically what happened is that a writer, Adrian Chen, wrote a piece for Gawker that exposed the real identity of a Reddit user named Violentacrez.  No matter how you feel about the morality of its content, it’s a well-written piece and interesting as hell: http://gawker.com/5950981/unmasking-reddits-violentacrez-the-biggest-troll-on-the-web?post=53482009

This dude Violentacrez is basically the worst.  Nobody’s really arguing that he’s a good guy.  According to the article, he mods a bunch of subreddits with charming names like “Hitler”, “Niggerjailbait”, and “Incest”, just to get a shocked reaction from other Redditors that brings him attention and results in his posts being voted up to the top.  He also posts pictures of underage girls in a section called “Jailbait” (which are not technically illegal porn because they are clothed).  He’s posted “creepshots”, photos surreptitiously taken of unsuspecting women’s breasts and behinds; photos that glorify violence against women; and photos of dead teenage girls, intended as fetish objects  

So he’s super delightful.  But what’s going on now is that people are accusing Chen of ruining this guys life and violating a social agreement that Reddit users’ anonymity is sacrosanct.  

Except THAT’S NOT A REAL THING.  There is no rule anywhere in the history of the world that says you have the right for the things that you post on the internet to be anonymous.  It would be one thing if Reddit had violated a privacy agreement and released Violentacrez’s identity to Chen, but that isn’t what happened.  Violentacrez gave his real name to a fellow user, who later felt like Violentacrez went too far and gave his name to Chen.  No laws, agreements, or rules were violated.  Yet Chen is getting a huge amount of backlash for crossing some kind of social line or invisible bro code.  

Let’s say I (Violentacrez) email something disgusting but not illegal (post gross things on Reddit, and tell another Reddit user my true identity) to a work friend (the other Reddit user), and the friend forwards it to someone else (Chen) who tells HR, and I get reprimanded, so consequently everyone knows what happened (Chen posts the information on Gawker).  My reputation at the office is ruined.  I would be upset with my work friend for violating the privacy of our correspondence.  However, although I can be annoyed that I got caught because of the person who the work friend told, that person made no agreement with me, and he or she is following the rules of the office - the office being a public space, like the internet.  If I wanted to keep my disgusting thing a secret, I should have not done this business at the office.  The internet is not your house.  The internet is public.  

When Chen confronts Violentacrez, his subject pleads with him not to out him, because he says that people will judge him and the comfort of his real-world life will be compromised.  To this I say:  If you don’t want people to think you are a dude who posts pictures of dead teenage girls on the internet, then don’t post pictures of dead teenage girls on the internet.  Posting weird things on the internet is like putting on a ski mask and posting them around your neighborhood.  If you take off your mask for a second and say hi to your neighbor and your neighbor tells the local news what you’ve been up to, you can’t say to the reporter, “but I put on a ski mask.  I thought we had an agreement that everyone’s allowed to do what they want without anyone else knowing, if they’re wearing a ski mask most of the time.”  You went outside to put up your weird pictures everywhere.  If you’re looking at pictures in your house, nobody can or should stop you.  But you went outside with your ski mask.  You went on the internet.   

I think everything this guy has posted (that I know of) is vile, but I will defend forever his right to post what he wants.  In my book, if he wants to devote his perverted energy to starting cannibalismsoundsfantastic.com or HitlerIsDelightful.com, he is protected by the First Amendment, just as I would be if I posted a pro-choice screed that pro-life people might consider morally wrong.  Hurray for free speech!  However, the First Amendment does not say that everyone is entitled to free speech with zero social consequences.  He slipped.  He let his name leak, and Chen pounced on the opportunity to let the public know who the guy behind the ski mask is.  On the internet, being unmasked is par for the course, so you’d better make sure that your face is something that you want people to see. 

Also, Reddit?  You know, the site that values free speech so much that it allowed Violentacrez to post “creeper photos”, hate speech, and dead girls?  It’s banned links to Chen’s Gawker expose.  Hurray for free speech.